deutsche Sprache

Smack Construction

The distinguishing features of a smack are:

  1. gaff rigged cutter or ketch rig (main sail, mizzen and jib with a boom, staysail without),
  2. a long keeled heavy displacement hull without leeboards,
  3. a straight bow, deep forefoot, low raking keel, counter stern and rudder trunk,
  4. low after freeboard,
  5. a fully decked deck,
  6. a tiller instead of the wheel,
  7. blocks instead of winches,
  8. wooden spars.
Smack Unity of captain William Wyatt on the hard   Ex-police smack Fly MN17 from Maldon

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The Typical Essex-Smack Beatrice

Typical of the Essex-smacks was the fifteen ton Beatrice, launched in 1848 for a Captain Mason of Wivenhoe and build by Thomas Harvey and Son, whose Wivenhoe yard propably produced many of the most shapely and well-finished smacks. She was later owned by Captain James Barnard of Rowhedge. Her dimensions were 52 feet length overall, 45 feet registered length, by 12 foot beam by 6 foot 6 inches draught aft. The plumb stem, slightly rounded forefoot, long rocking keel, great forward freeboard and graceful sheer sweeping to a low, well proportioned counter distinguish the type with different builders. Hull lines varied in detail but typically the hull had considerable rise of floor, a moderately firm bilge, hollow bow waterlines and a long and beautifully fair run to the flatsectioned counter.

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Smacks were Fishing Boats

These vessels had inherent speed to windward and the bold bow kept them going in a sea, but their low after freeboard and the fifteen-inch-high bulwarks necessary for handling fishing gear made them wet aft in bad weather, when they could stand extremely hard driving. All ballast was inside, of shingle and iron pigs ceiled over. From forward the hull was divided into a fo’c’sle store for paints, sails and ropes, entered by a deck hatch. The fish hold amidships was bulkheaded off at the mast and from the cabin aft. It was served by a 5-foot-square main hatch, with a small spratting hatch adjacent so that the cod end of the net could be progressively shot down it without exposing too large an opening in winter sea conditions. The crew’s quarters for four were in the cabin aft, with cupboard bunks around the sides and a coal stove for warmth and cooking. The cabin hatch was immediately forward of the tiller and the compass was mounted inside it for protection. On deck a handspike windlass handled the chain cable and an iron, geared hand capstan the trawl warps. Halyards and sheets were brought in by hand.

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A True Cutter

Sail plan of 'Peace' by Douglas Stone, 1909   My Alice CK348 in Brightlingsea

Like all of her kind the Beatrice was rigged as a true cutter, with long housing topmast and the bowsprit housing between deck bitts, one of which was reinforced with a knee, the other fitted to the keelson and also bearing a pawl for the windlass. The Beatrice set 1,250 square feet in the mainsail, foresail (staysail), jib and the jib-headed topsail. In light weather a larger yard topsail was set, besides a balloon staysail or a balloon jib or „bowsprit spinnaker“ from the bowsprit end, sheeted well abaft the shrouds when fetching on the wind or boomed out when running. A small jib and a storm jib completed the usual sail outfit. A trysail was not usually carried in smacks of this size but the mainsail had a close reef. Until about 1890 such smacks were built for £10 per registered ton for hull, mast and spars. Construction was simple but strong: English elm keel, pine keelson, English oak centreline and sawn frames, pitch-pine bottom planking and often Baltic fir side planking with English oak sheer, wale and bilge strakes, though some, like the Beatrice, were planked throughout in oak. All fastenings were iron. Deck beams were English oak and deck planking pine. The deck shelf, mast and spars were also of pine. When dredging at sea the mainsail was often handed and the mainboom was stowed in a crutch, a large trysail being set in its place, sheeted by tackles to the quarters.

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Decks Layout on the Large Smacks

The Rowhedge-owned Aquiline, belonging to Captain Harry Cook, was typical. A bold-sheered cutter of 21 registered tons, she was launched from the Harris yard in 1865, where her 65 foot hull was well built and finely formed. It had a beam of 15 feet and drew 8 feet 6 inches when loaded to her hold capacity. She carried a sail area of about 2000 square feet in her working canvas. The mainboom was 45 feet long and the bowsprit 25 feet outboard. When dredging at sea the mainsail was often handed and the mainboom was stowed in a crutch, a large trysail being set in its place, sheeted by tackles to the quarters. The arrangements of these larger smacks differed greatly from the small smacks that still survive for pleasure sailing. Forward, the usual handspike windlass handled the anchor cable, which ran out clear of the stem on a short wooden davit. In season, it also handled the stowboat gear. A large geared handwinch, having four barrels, was fitted immediately forward of the mast for working halyards, running out the bowsprit, working fishing gear or whipping out the cargo. A winch or geared hand-capstan stood amidships and could be worked by two or more men when dredging or working trawl warps. All were hauled by muscle power, as, unlike the specialized trawling smacks from the large fishing ports, which were equipped with steam capstans, the Essex boats relied solely on „Armstrong’s Patent” to work their fishing gear, a feature they endured until the eclipse of sail. A clinker-planked boat from 13 to 15 feet long was carried on deck or was lashed upside down over the main hatch in foul weather. In port on Sundays or on regatta days most of these smacks sported a long masthead pennant emblazoned with the smack’s name or initial. Many had signal letters allotted to them, which is proof of their varied sea work. Few had channels for the shrouds, as these interfered with boarding stowboat gear.

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Arrangements Below Deck

Below deck the forepeak was a cable locker and abaft this was the mast room, as the space between the peak bulkhead and mast was called. This housed a large scuttlebutt for drinking water and racks for bread and vegetable stores. Partial bulkheads set this off from the main hold, which occupied about one third of the smack’s length. Ballast was clean beach shingle with a proportion of iron pigs, covered by a wood ceiling. All hands berthed in the cabin aft, entered by a companion hatch in the deck. In this space of perhaps fourteen by nine feet six men lived for weeks at a time. Locker seats ran down each side. The four bunks lined the sides, behind the lockers, each having sliding panels which could be closed by the occupant to shut himself off for sleep or from his noisy mates. A big double berth across the counter was known as the Yarmouth Roads and could hold two apprentices, who were lulled to sleep by the rudder’s groan and kick in the trunk near their heads. On the black coal stove a kettle simmered and a large teapot warmed, only emptied when it would no longer hold six mugfuls of water. Knives and forks were stuck in cracks of the deck beams and saucepan lids were used as plates in a seaway with the handle gripped between the knees.

from “Smacks and Bawleys” by John Leather

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